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What's a Snapchat?

What's a Snapchat?  It's only the newest toy for those who love their social gizmos. Snapchat is a messaging app that allows users to take pictures or videos and then send them to a select group via text. The question you might ask is what makes this message interface worth the attention it's getting? Take a look at the pros and cons that give Snapchat "snap" appeal.

A Little Snap History

Snapchat is the brainchild of Reggie Brown and Evan Spiegel, students at Stanford University. It started out as a project for one of Spiegel's classes under the name Picaboo. The design team wanted an app that would provide impermanent images, or pictures that disappear after a given amount of time. As of November 2012, a reported one billion photos have gone out using the Snapchat interface.

Features of Snapchat

Usability is something that makes this app a stand out. The interface consists of a black screen with a large button at the bottom. Press the button to snap a picture. Users also have the option to record a 10-second video. The app comes complete with editing tools for still images that will convert them to drawings or to add text.

Users create lists of contacts when sending out messages. They can even see when each friend looks at a snap sent their way. When someone creates a new image, he or she puts a timer on it. When the buzzer goes off, it disappears from all phones, tablets and servers – or that's what they tell you at least.

So, does the Disappearing Act Work?

That is really the question. According to Forbes, it doesn't. The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a complaint against the company with the Federal Trade Commission claiming deception. The program documentation clarifies the disappearing process for users, however. The company states their servers maintain a log of the last 200 snaps, but not the actual content. If the file remains unviewed, it will stay on the server for up to 30 days, even though it disappears off the recipient's device.

Accountability is not the only concern facing Snapchat. Security is an issue with this program, as well. A 2013 report by ZDnet claims the program associates names with phone numbers, and that leads to bulk downloading of account details via the Snapchat API. In December of 2013, 4.6 million names and phone numbers leaked online reportedly from Snapchat. The poster censored the last two digits to protect the user's security while still making a point.

Snapchat is often associated with sexting-- or sending explicit images to someone. Since many users are under the age of 18, this opens up some child pornography issues, as well – especially given the fact the program appears to be vulnerable. This turned out to be a valid concern. In November of 2013, Canadian authorities arrested 10 boys for sharing explicit photos of underage girls they stole from Snapchat.

The bottom line is that Snapchat is a cool idea, but proving to be less impressive than it sounds. In this age of identity theft, you have to ask yourself how important is it to have one more photo messaging app on the market? Snapchat works great in theory but is a use at your own risk prospect.